on 3 December 2004
John Cale had a already become a man of indefinable talents long before the release of Paris 1919, yet for me his best work inside or outside the Velvet Underground can be found in this album, part of his peak songwriting period (which includes the darker textures of Fear). The beauty of his lyricism is haunting. Cale's literacy is very much an undervalued weapon and becomes striking in the albums fulcrum and title track, a sly critique of the high authority of the church. The tracks have a historical quality which resonate with wit and cunningly smooth balladeering. The arrangements are exceptional and easy on the ear, making this an essential touchstone for newcomers.
One obvious point after repeated listens is the curious lack of widespread praise in comparison to the notably patchy nature of Lou Reed's catalogue. Reed, of course, made several worthy albums in Transformer and the underrated Berlin, but nothing comparable in coherence or lasting quality to Cale.
Cale's best songs are here, anyone having sampled his collections or other albums would be pushed to disagree (though his work with Eno and his production roles are key for further investigation). 'Hanky Panky' and 'Andalucia' have a majestic warmth, while 'Half past France' is a reflective masterstroke. The understated touch of the later tracks cannot be mirrored in my understatement for this album. It is a definitive british recording.
Mention the name John Cale in casual conversation and there is a risk you will be discussing the pervasive influence of the Velvet Underground on contemporary music till you eyelids wither from boredom. That or you will be regaled on how "Music For A New Society" is a bleak masterpiece. Or just as likely the other person will look at you like you have suddenly acquired a badger sprouting from your left nostril and enquire "John who?"
What is beyond doubt is Cale is a great artist , and while "Music For A New Society " is a very fine album there is a very persuasive argument that his masterpiece is "Paris 1919". Released in 1973 Cale titled the album after the 1919 Paris peace conference where the burnished glitterati of the world set out its agenda and order for the 20th Century. There are nine songs spread over 31minutes encompassing powerful themes-ennui, homesickness, turmoil, and the erosion of political boundaries- to ambiguous often imponderable lyrics.
The music is stately and melodiously sumptuous, utilising plump orchestration and tense layers of keyboard. Whether it is the baroque magnificence of the title track or the lilting yet gorgeous ballad "Andalucia" the album is relentlessly brilliant. "Hanky Panky Nohow" is an esemplasitc tower of melancholic melody. "Half Past France" sounds uncannily like a track off Enos "Before And After Science" four years before it was released. "Childs Christmas In Wales "glows with layers of tender instrumentation and effulgent detail. "The Endless Plain Of Fortune" is wonderfully sombre and portentous with a lovely high register guitar counter pointing the monochromatic walls of orchestration. "Macbeth" is by contrast verging on glam rock with a stomping arrangement and juicy scowls of guitar. "Graham Greene" is a perky vaudeville misprint with it's eccentric but caustic couplets including the choice line "Welcome back to Chipping and Sodbury". Final track "Antarctica Starts Here" is sung in a stage whisper and is a repressed little song with softly stroked keyboard notes, gentle acoustics and sparse but languid bass backing.
At the risk of being controversial I would say that this expanded version is rather superfluous. The extra tracks apart from one new song -"Burned Out Affair" which is nothing to get carried away about -are all demos or inferior versions ruined by extraneous chatter. The original album is perfect as it is ....these just break the spell that Paris 1919 so effortlessly and ravishingly casts.
on 25 January 2001
Paris 1919 is John Cale's finest album, a one-stop shop embracing orchestral rock (the title track, Child's Christmas in Wales), out and out rock 'n' roll (Macbeth), cod reggae (Graham Greene) and some of the most evocative ballads ever commited to tape (Half Past France, Andalucia). Rejecting this orchestral route, and later dismissing the album as a 'Procol Harum soundalike', Cale went on to make the more biting, but equally brilliant rock albums, Fear and Slow Dazzle, but Paris 1919 is still probably the best introduction to John Cale for the uninitiated, and his regular live shows are testament to the fact that these songs don't require any embellishements to stand the test of time.
Rhino are on pleasant form at present, reissuing the original `Nuggets', issuing those legendary Judee Sill albums, releasing the definitive Replacements' compilation, and now reissuing a remastered/expanded version of `Paris 1919', one of Cale's most popular albums. First things first, the packaging and sound is much better, it's nice to see the compact disc look like a Reprise record, but the many bonus tracks are merely curios, like most DVD-extras. The out-take `Burned Out Affair' is rather great, but I'm not sure I'd listen to any of the other versions again - perhaps this is due to the fact `Paris 1919' is kind of perfect anyway?
Following his exit from the Velvet Underground, Cale flipped between the avant and rock worlds, frequently fusing them together - whether as arranger/uncredited producer on Nico's `The Marble Index', or as producer of The Stooges' debut, or collaborating with Terry Riley (`Church of Anthrax'), or releasing the overlooked and rather splendid `Vintage Violence' (a precursor of the material here). Recorded with a band - Cale alongside Lowell George, Wilton Felder & Richie Hayward - with the UCLA Symphony Orchestra and producer Chris Thomas, `Paris 1919' remains one of Cale's strongest albums - though I'm as enamoured with `Fear', `Helen of Troy' & `Music for a New Society'. This probably is the one, however...
It's pop music, of sorts, `Child's Christmas in Wales' has the studio nous of Steely Dan and operates in a similar plain to the Eno-era work of Roxy Music. `Half Past France' and `Paris 1919' make clear that this is one of those European albums, alongside Nico's `The Marble Index' and `Desertshore' - Cale fusing his classical/avant-classical sensibilities with some gorgeous songs. Hard to single out a track on the album - it's so perfect - one of those albums that can just be played all the way through. `Macbeth' can be seen to anticipate the `Dirty Ass Rock'N'Roll' side of his canon, but otherwise this remains fixed at some point between classical and rock and roll.
Cale has often recorded great tracks - `The Jeweller', `Gun', his definitive take on Cohen's `Hallelujah' (ripped off by Jeff Buckley), `Riverbank', `Cable Hogue', `Mr Wilson', `Mercenaries (Ready for War!)' etc, I would have said his work is often well served by compilations like `The Island Years' and `Seducing Down the Door', if not the fantastic live solo recording `Fragments of a Rainy Season.' But `Paris 1919' needs to be owned too - a classic album given a thoughtful reissue.
Much has, of course, been written about John Cale’s 1973 masterpiece, not least around its many and complex themes (political, artistic, literary, personal, etc), but nothing should be allowed to detract from (or blur) the fact that with Paris 1919 Wales’ finest penned an idiosyncratically sublime set of songs, full of (often subtle) melody and highly poetic (though often obscure) lyrics. It’s also an album that almost defies genre classification – often described as 'baroque pop’ – with a whole range of apparent influences, through 60s bands such as The Beatles, Beach Boys and Kinks, plus the obvious feed from The Velvets’ more ethereal moments, but also (for me, at least) shades of Neil Young (the heavenly The Endless Plain of Fortune could have appeared on After The Goldrush) and, more recently, even Nick Cave and (in terms of the lyrical sophistication and source referencing) Luke Haines.
And what a curious band line-up Cale assembled. Little Feat’s Lowell George and Ritchie Hayward on guitar and drums respectively – a nice fit for the album’s relatively laid-back feel, take George’s slide guitar backing during the start of the Dylan Thomas-esque personal tale in Child’s Christmas In Wales – but, perhaps most surprisingly The Crusaders’ 'jazz-funk’ man Wilton Felder on bass. Nonetheless, the album’s sound is seamless, from the jaunty 'la-la-la’ pop of the album’s title song (with its vibrant UCLA Symphony Orchestra string backing), through the rockier sound of Macbeth and the quirky Graham Greene, to the haunting effects of Half Past France or Hanky Panky Nohow – the latter, whose apparent light hearted flippancy disguises the song’s darker undercurrents ('Nothing frightens me more than religion at my door’) – providing a deceptive quality which permeates the album.
The 2006 Rhino re-release also provides 12 additional tracks – alternate versions of all nine original album songs, plus third versions of each of the title song plus an instrumental version (unlisted) of Macbeth (on which George really excels on slide guitar). Perhaps most importantly though is Burned Out Affair, a tenth song originally intended for inclusion on the album, but dropped – inexplicably, as the song is as poignant an elegy for childhood as you are likely to hear anywhere.
on 19 December 2009
This is such a beautiful album. John Cale has a haunting voice and its streets ahead of his work with Velvet Underground. I love Andalucia - one of my favourite songs ever. And a Child's Christmas in wales. It was a definitive album to own in the 70s. If you walked into someone's flat and they had John Cale's Paris 1919 you knew they were cool and switched on. marlene packwood
This classic 1973 album has been enhanced by the addition of 11 tracks of demos and alternate takes. Paris 1919 is atypical for John Cale, being consistently tuneful and mainstream with little experimentation. Some of his most poetic lyrics are found on these elegant songs, most of which are ballads that bring to mind the music of Scott Walker at his creative peak on Boy Child 67-70. A reggae ditty and a powerful rock song ensure stylistic variety.
There is a subdued, desolate air about Child's Christmas in Wales, Hanky Panky Nohow and Half Past France while subdued, whispered vocals make Antarctica a brooding, moody track. With its impressive orchestral backing Paris 1919 is less of a rock album than most of his best later work, like for example the three Island Years albums. The exception is Macbeth, a robust, even blistering slice of up-tempo rock.
The ballad arrangements may be orchestral but the melodies are simple and appealing for the most part, as on the lovely Andalucia. The delightful title track with its edgy arrangement, birdsong and refrain of "you're a ghost, la la la" is especially striking, while the lilting reggae beat and trenchant lyrics of Graham Greene render it catchy and charming. Paris 1919 is simultaneously a very 'literary' album and Cale at his most accessible. The bonus tracks are interesting but there's nothing exceptional about any of them.
You`re having tea with Graham Greene
In the coloured costume of your choice
So begins a jaunty mid-tempo ditty named after the writer mentioned, on this extraordinary 1973 record by the always idiosyncratic Welshman John Cale. It`s as defiantly, marvellously bonkers as much of the rest of the songs.
Not even Cale himself has come up with an album quite as haunting and captivating as Paris 1919. It`s one of those stand-alone LPs from those days such as Marquee Moon, Forever Changes, and Astral Weeks that defy categorization, and sound like nothing before or since.
This wasn`t Cale`s debut solo album - Vintage Violence & The Academy in Peril came first - but it was as if a new voice and sound had arrived, little like the Velvets and little like any other music around at the time.
Child`s Christmas in Wales is a starkly compelling opening track and gives notice of a sparely lyrical set of nine songs (not including the welcome extras on this reissue, including a superb outtake Burned Out Affair) with enticing titles that give nothing away: Hanky Panky Nohow, The Endless Plain of Fortune, Half Past France, Antarctica Starts Here...
I play this when I want to hear something 'pure' - music to blow a few cobwebs away. It always works. Cale`s lugubrious, deadpan South Wales baritone helps too.
With its mostly all-white cover, its rarefied songs, occasionally unexpected instrumentation, this has 'iconic' written all over it.
Good booklet too.
I`m very glad John Cale is among us. He`s a true original.
If you`ve never heard Cale, start here.
on 11 September 2010
How many other bands could have accommodated the viola as well as the Velvet Underground? Even more to the point, how many other bands could have accommodated John Cale as well as they did? Both questions are merely hypothetical in view of what Cale went on to achieve in his solo `career' and `Paris 1919' sums a fair bit of that up, not the most insignificant part of which is the fact that he proved to be a damn fine songwriter.
In view of his iconoclastic ways `A Child's Christmas In Wales' hits the wistful button almost as squarely as anything by Clifford T. Ward, albeit without that man's almost tangible Englishness.
If anything `Hanky Panky Nohow' gets closer still. The bridge is tellingly lyrical and Cale, in this reviewer's opinion an undervalued singer, puts over the cryptic lyric with a panache that few others could match.
Cale's no `sensitive singer-songwriter' giving it some of the intense jingle-jangle however, and just to lay any fears on that score to rest he makes a rocker out of `Macbeth' (now there's a turn of phrase the reviewer doesn't get to write very often)
Like Neil Young Cale is a person who manages to make a living out of music through doing just as he pleases. As a result this album is on one level a report on a work in progress. On another however it's a great piece of work by a musician far too cussed to ever play the game. Because of that I'm giving it five stars only because nine isn't an option.
This classic early solo album is like a collection of short stories and contains some of Cale’s most poetic lyrics. There is a subdued, almost melancholic air about most of these, like Child’s Christmas and Hanky Panky Nohow. The impressive orchestral backing make it less of a rock album than most of his best later work (like during the Island period). An exception is Macbeth – a robust slice of rolling rock. The arrangements may be orchestral, but the melodies are simple and tuneful for the most part, as on the lovely Andalucia. The delightful title track with its edgy arrangement, birdsong and “you’re a ghost, la la la” refrain is especially evocative, while the swaying reggae beat and trenchant lyrics of Graham Greene make this another classic track, and quite catchy too. Half Past France is a sad slow ballad and Antarctica is a moody piece with subdued, whispered vocals. Paris 1919 is a very “literary” album and Cale at his most accessible.